Behind My Reflection

The act of “looking into a mirror” is an oft-used metaphor, almost to the extent of being cliche. I personally don’t mind cliches, but the academic community seems to shy away from them as limiting or corny or unimaginative. Writers prefer the avoidance of cliches because it implies the writer is somehow unable to conjure his/her own metaphors or images or quips to describe a situation, and therefore must relinquish him/herself to the old fail-safes of cliches.

But some cliches are just too perfect.

I suppose there is something in my life that I hated, and loved, and now I miss: Being a teacher.

There. I said it.

I remember my first day. I never student-taught (I became a teacher through the Transition to Teaching Program), so my first day of class was my first time standing before a group of students as a teacher. I remember walking into that first hour and seeing that group, and it was as though a switch turned on within me, and I was suddenly a teacher. I remember feeling nervous in the hallway as I watched students go into my room, but once I stood in front of them as the teacher, I was never nervous. I was confident. And I was good at it.

Now my wife is a teacher. Now she is doing what I did, but I’m certain she is much better at it than I ever was. Now she gets to experience the greatest sensation I remember as a teacher: Doing something that matters.

Set aside the notion of the terrible and immoral things I did which violated the profession; set that aside for just a moment. I know, it’s difficult to overlook the awful things I did, but suspend your disbelief for a few minutes and see things before I ruined them — see things the way they were, the way they should have been, the way they should have stayed.

I am so grateful when I am contacted by a former student who expresses appreciation for who I was in his/her life. It means so much to me because I know I will never have the opportunity to have that sort of positive impact on anyone’s life ever again. In a way, I can no longer educate, I can no longer inspire; I can only be a cautionary tale.

But before everything went down in flames, I made a difference. To many, I was able to make a positive impact on students’ lives beyond the curriculum. I was able to provide a new perspective to life for numerous students who thought their lives were uncertain. Simply put, I was doing something that mattered.

I had such a wonderful life, and I threw it all away. Granted, I have a good life now, and perhaps the two are incomparable, but I can’t help but know the things I gave up because I refused to make good choices.

That, essentially, is the reflection in my mirror. But the way I seem to see life anymore, is the image behind me in the mirror. I spend an inordinate amount of time looking over my own shoulder without turning my head — looking at the world behind me, in the mirror of my memory. I wish I wasn’t such a reminiscent person. I wish I had a better ability to let go of the past. I wish I wasn’t so sentimental.

I wish I could find the fine line between remorse and regret.

I am flattered and humbled when readers reflect on what I’ve written. It is the greatest compliment for a reader to discuss my writing with me. Last week, I had a phone conference with a potential publisher, and during the meeting, one of men quoted several passages from my book with great interest and intrigue. I suppose it was sort of like a musician hearing a crowd sing along with the lyrics he wrote. But one thing the publisher said numerous times about the book was that it was important and noteworthy. That felt good. It was nice that someone else saw the importance in what I was writing and the goals toward which I have been striving.

A few weeks ago, I met with some university faculty about speaking at their student-teacher seminar about the issue of unlawful teacher-student relationships. This meeting consisted of a question-and-answer session with a panel of faculty members, asking me questions about my research, my perspectives, my experiences, and my writing. They treated me as though I was an expert on the topic (which, I suppose, I sort of am) and with every answer to every question, they seemed to grow more and more interested in my perspectives regarding the solutions to the ongoing problem.

These two instances — the phone conference with the publisher and the meeting with the university faculty — made me genuinely feel like a knowledgeable professional again. Granted, the topic upon which I speak has changed considerably since being a teacher, but the manner in which I am treated (as a person and as a professional) by those who respect my perspective has given me a great deal of confidence in my future.

Recently, I’ve found myself looking to the distant landscape of life without the mirror in front of me. The mirror still has a landscape, but it’s the landscape over my shoulder. But as I press on into great wide open, I am finding myself more often in a position where the mirror isn’t blocking my view, and the expanse upon which I cast my gaze is in the future, not the past.

I will always reminisce — of this I am certain. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like I am on the cusp of creating new fulfilling memories upon which I will reminisce in the years to come. I’m staring into the great wide open — a rebel without a clue…